A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday in Dijon

Getting Ready for Christmas

snow -1 °C

We eventually had some success in our quest to find an open chateau. The Château de Clos de Vougeot is located between Beaune and Dijon and started life in the 1500s as a winemaking enterprise belonging to the Cistercian monks. They lost it during the French Revolution but it is now a national historic site. For the monks, winemaking seemed to have artistic, scientific and, to some extent, religious dimensions as they applied their "8 hours work" to it. I suspect that they might have been thinking about it a bit during their "8 hours sleep" and "8 hours prayer" as well, given how successful they were. I gave in to my "inner boring man" by being truly fascinated with some massive wooden wine-presses that were engineered in the 1400s.

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to refuel the hire car at automated fuel stations (not sure what it is with French payment systems and our credit cards but there have been a few random refusals to work), we got it sorted when we found one that had a human on board on a Sunday. The GPS again didn't know about the Dijon tramway project so I tricked it by going past the city centre a little and arriving near our hotel from a different direction. This approach is quite satisfactory although the "perform a U-turn when possible" repeated plea does your head in after a while. 

Dijon is a beautiful old city and we were fortunate enough to observe some of the pre-Christmas activities. Highlights included the distribution of free vin chaud (warm mulled wine) in the street, the Dijon Lions Club fund-raising by selling soups donated by "the chefs of Bourgogne", antiques markets, carol singers and a few children in elegantly understated angel costumes. There also seems to be a tea-house culture in Dijon and we visited a particularly beautiful one. After dark, the Liberation Place area was alive with a busy Christmas market as well as people watching a clever 3D style movie protected onto a prominent building and families skiing on artificially constructed snowfields.

Real snow started to fall during the early hours of Monday morning and made for a pretty scene through the glass doors of the hotel room balconies.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 21:50 Archived in France Comments (0)

Grand Cru du Bourgogne

Following the wine trail

semi-overcast 3 °C

The weather was clearing as we left the gîte to drive towards the Burgundy wine growing areas and the historic town of Beaune. The geography changes significantly as you drive down into a long river valley almost completely under vines.  Having picked out a couple of chateaux to visit, we followed the awful French pronunciation of "Karen, the GPS voice" to head in their general direction but didn't have a lot of luck.  The first one was beautiful but was a restaurant and degustation place rather than the historical site that we were after.  A man there recommended another one nearby which was what we were after but on arrival it was clear that it was shut for the winter.  It looked impressive from the outside, though. 

We gave up on the chateau idea and went on to Beaune where, after circumnavigating the centre area a few times and driving through the middle of the markets (... the truffle sellers looked very nervous) and almost up the stairs into the church, we checked into a hotel built in part of an ancient monastery structure.  Beaune proved to be a magnificent place and we enjoyed visiting the famous Hôtel Dieu, former convent and other ancient buildings.  We also saw a number of building facades having spectacular animations projected onto them.   The dining experiences and general ambience of the town centre were both great.  These people also know how to do some seriously good things with pinot noir grapes.

In the evening, we sampled the famous escargot and a couple of other traditional Burgundian dishes accompanied by a bottle of fine wine.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 07:44 Archived in France Comments (0)

Driving in the Rain

Le Grand Pleut

9 °C

During the night of the 14th December, a warnings-laden storm rolled across this part of France and the river beside the gîte started to rise.  Some neighbours that we met may have had some worries with low level inundation but we decided to take the Yaris for a spin.

Our first journey was to a town called Autun where Friday was market day underneath L'Hôtel de Ville.  Although getting inside the markets whilst staying dry proved a bit tricky, we enjoyed investigating the different produce from the local suppliers.  Sonia needed to do some cooking after going for several days without having done any so we left with bread, olives, dried fruits, various vegetables, two pieces of salmon and a lemon. 

Heavy rain stopped us from doing much looking around so we drove on to Châteauneuf-en-Auxois which is a castle-like fortified hilltop village.  It was beautiful although almost deserted.  The castle was supposed to be open but a man living nearby told us, "Il a fermé parce que il y a les ventes très fortes .... C'est une situation de securité."  He went inside and checked again with the guardians of the castle but unfortunately the winds were still a problem so we walked around the outside and went on our way. 

Our next destination was the ancient Abbaye de Fontenay.   I selected the "no tolls" option proffered by the GPS which took us on some very scenic older roads through the wet but beautiful countryside.  The Abbaye was a well presented former Benedictine monastery that was established on the site in various forms from about the 12th to the 16th centuries.  It has been privately owned by a family for 5 generations but is made open to the public as a historical site of significance.  The owners live in a rather grand residence in the middle of the complex.  The buildings included a church, chapter rooms, cloisters, a forge and a gatehouse with dog kennels.  The site also had some beautiful formal garden areas. 

As it was getting dark, we selected the "tolls" option and after some confusion working out the tolling system, we took a motorway most of the way back to the gîte.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 13:48 Archived in France Comments (0)

Time in the Country

Les Vélos en Campagne

semi-overcast 10 °C

Following our coffee and croissants breakfast at the gîte in Suze, we arranged to collect some bicycles for a bit of a spin through the countryside. Although the people who live here on a more permanent basis suggested that we were a little mad to be doing this on a rainy winter's day, we set off along country roads to a recommended restaurant in another of the little villages in the area.

We were almost the only customers at Les Poulettes à Table and we were treated very attentively by a wonderful restauranteur named Patrice and his artist wife Marianne. He explained the menu choices in great detail and recommended an accompanying wine for each course. It was a complete culinary education for us in relation to wining and dining in Bourgogne and was not expensive. After three delicious courses with whites, reds, sparkling pinks and a final 55 "watt" (Patrice's preferred term for % alcohol) spirit, we bought some of Marianne's artwork and wobbled off on the bikes in the general direction of Suze. Although we went through a couple of showers of rain, it was a lovely cycle back through the farms, villages and forest areas. 

Although we didn't really need any more gluttonous behavior, Anna prepared a lovely pasta dish to complete the day's dining.  We decided to stay on for an extra night. 

Posted by Neil-Sonia 13:39 Archived in France Comments (0)

Train to Dijon

Par le TGV

semi-overcast 7 °C

After a leisurely walk to the Gare de Lyon, we boarded the TGV for Dijon. French train transport is brilliant and we had a comfortable 1 1/2 hour journey through predominantly flat farming land. My combination of passable spoken French and less than passable listening skill led to a slightly confused process of storing the luggage so that we could walk into the centre of Dijon for a quick look and some lunch.  Dijon has an old town centre area with many attractive buildings; however, a lot of construction was happening with the installation of a new tram system.

The excitement came when I picked up the car from the hire place at the station. The first time driving "on the other side" is probably never a pretty sight but the added dimension of some road works meant the GPS and I confused each other for half an hour in the centre of Dijon while I drove into dead ends, turned the wipers on in lieu of the indicators, stalled the car and started to venture the wrong way up a one-way street. After these hiccups, we headed out along the A38 back towards Paris. The road was good and the  130 km/hr speed limit gave me a chance to become better friends with the Yaris. GPS is a fabulous invention and "Karen's" calm instructions sent us fairly easily to the tiny rural village of Suze.

The gîte we stayed in is owned by a family connection of Sonia named Anna who has a collection of 2 or 3 ancient rural buildings that are undergoing some renovation and conversion. Anna equipped us with some fine Burgundian wines from the cellar and Sonia and I made use of the remaining light to go for a walk past a lot of farms to a nearby village and back. After some beautiful cheeses which went exceptionally well with a bottle of Aligoté (lovely white, probably a sauvignon blanc or semillon), we sat down to a beautiful duck meal that Anna had cooked for us. A bottle of Hautes Côtes de Nuits (light and delightful red that was like a pinot noir) helped the duck and red mustard on its way. The gîte is actually an entire house which was quite rustic and very relaxing with a fire and an interesting collection of furnishings.

Posted by Neil-Sonia 13:33 Archived in France Comments (2)

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